Exploring the Experience of a First-Generation Graduate Student

by Ana Felce

If you are a first-generation graduate student, you’re likely interested in finding out what to expect from the new challenge and how it differs from your experience as an undergraduate. You’re also probably curious to hear about other students’ experiences.

You’re in the right place! Here’s more insight into what graduate school is like for first-gen graduate students—and how you can succeed along with them.

You’ll Have a More Focused Learning Objective

While it’s not uncommon for undergraduate students to change majors, graduate students enroll with a clear idea of what they’ll be studying (and why).

Crys Saludes, M.S. ’18, who graduated from Azusa Pacific University’s M.S. in Research Psychology and Data Analysis program, noted that this can make a huge difference in the graduate school experience. “The problem is that at age 18 or 19, we haven’t lived our lives enough to know what drives us or what we are passionate about,” she said. “By the time we decide to go to grad school, we have made more meaningful life choices and have experienced more in this world to really know what we want to study.”

Saludes enrolled in the graduate program after years of working a job she knew she didn’t want to stay in forever. She explained that she felt grad school would give her the chance to pursue her passions and would open doors for her professionally.

Grad School Prepares You for Real-World Situations

Mario Gomez, M.S. ’20, a current APU student enrolled in the M.S. in Organizational Psychology program, also found the graduate school experience to be different than undergrad. “The biggest difference I noticed between undergraduate and graduate school is that everything you do in graduate school is applicable in the real world and work setting,” he noted.

Gomez said he found his graduate classes were focused less on tests and more on readings, papers, and presentations meant to prepare students for their desired careers.

A Support Network Is Key to Success

Gomez and Saludes both found that maintaining contact with faculty was crucial to their success as graduate students. Their professors and advisors were pivotal figures during their time at APU, helping them with the application process and providing support throughout their programs.

“The great thing about the professors at APU is their approachability and willingness to help their grad students,” Saludes noted.

In addition, graduate programs at APU have a 10:1 ratio of students to faculty, creating a more personalized learning environment. With these smaller class sizes, it’s also easier to get to know your classmates and professors so you can build a network of supporters who all want to see you succeed.

Deciding to Pursue a Graduate Degree

As a first-generation graduate student, the motivation to pursue an advanced degree can come from your desire to grow professionally or to be the first in your family to chase a new opportunity.

Saludes was encouraged to continue her education in part because her family members missed out on the experience.

“My mom came from a small village in Oaxaca, Mexico, where education was a burden to most families because it meant the children couldn’t help out on the ranches,” Saludes said. Years later, her mom’s lack of access to education ended up influencing Saludes’s decision to go back to school.

Gomez was motivated to enroll in graduate courses because he wanted to become more marketable and competitive at work. He explained that he also wanted to be able to support his family.

“I always worked while I attended school to help my mom make ends meet,” he said. “It was never enough and there were many days filled with anxiety and uncertainty. I promised my mom and siblings we would never feel that way again once I finished school.”

Gomez said he sees education as a way to advance at work. Applying his new skills, Gomez has a path into a new role that will help others and also provide greater financial stability. By working toward his master’s degree, he felt that he was finally chasing his dream.

Graduate school can prepare students for new careers and help them advance in their current fields. If you’re considering taking the next step, explore the master’s programs and doctoral programs at Azusa Pacific University to find out how to apply and discover where your continued education can take you.